Mindful Parenting

Parenting a typical child is stressful in and of itself.  What happens when you are parenting a child with Mental Health Disorders?  How do you as a parent make calm out of chaos?  How do you turn yourself from the enemy into a tool to help alleviate your child’s symptoms and distress?

Mindful parenting allows parents to:

  • Make clear and planned decisions
  • Decrease feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Reduces intense emotions
  • Focus on positive changes and skills

Being Mindful means having an awareness of the situation you are in and attuning to that situation, in the moment, to be as effective as you can.  Often times in parenting we become overwhelmed with the past and future so much that we forget the present.  In forgetting the present we lose the opportunity to work with our children on what is happening now and how to alleviate what is happening now so that the future can be better and the past can be forgotten.

So what skills do I need to be a “mindful” parent?

  • Stepping back, emotionally, from situations and observing and describing in a non-judgmental manner. As a parent we are emotionally involved and invested in our children.  We want our children to feel good, be successful, not hurt, and not be in distress.  When this does not happen we often default into emotional reactivity that will feed symptoms and behaviors in children who have Mental Health Disorders.   By taking a step back from the situation and describing it in an objective manner we can gain a calmness and address these concerns in an effective manner that decreases the likelihood of triggering further symptoms and behaviors.  This non-judgmental stance also removes parental guilt over negative and shaming statements we may say out of frustration and removes opportunity for our children to distract and divert from actual concern by focusing on emotionally charge language and statements.
    • Example: You and you teenage daughter have a fight over her spending the night with a friend.  In response she goes to her room and self-harms.
      • A Judgmental, emotionally reactive, response could be “Why would you do this? You know better.  This is stupid and you are just being manipulative”.
      • A Non-Judgmental response could be, “You acted on your urges to harm yourself. I understand that you feel that this helps you feel better, but when you do this is scares me and worries me.  We need to find a different way to cope with this anger and frustration you feel”
    • Being One-Mindful. Allows you, as the parent, to be in charge of your mind and to reduce the overwhelming distractions that life can present to us.  As parents we have nine million directions our minds can run to.  Keeping track of ourselves, our children, our household, not to mention school, sports, and other events in life.   It can be difficult.  One-Mindfulness allows us to be fully present, in the moment, so that in times of distress and difficulty we are able to address what is happening rather than focusing on all past issues or what might happen in the future.  One Mindfulness allows us, as the adults and parents, to set the pace and direction of interventions in our homes.  It allows us to communicate to our children that we are in control of ourselves and by default are safe and can provide safety for them.
      • Stay calm, use assertive tone of voice and body language
      • Address the concern or behavior that is happening at that time in a clear and direct, non-judgmental manner. “You school called to let me know that other kids reported you were sending threatening text messages to them.  I need you to give me your phone so that we can ensure that you and others are safe.  If you choose not to do this I will have your service shut off”
      • Do not engage with your child in negative behaviors such as name calling, bringing up past situations, blaming others, arguing, or power struggling.
      • Give time frames for compliance and clear outcomes for choices that your child can make. “I will need your phone by dinner time or I am shutting off the service and you will not be allowed to go to football game this weekend.  If you can give me your phone we can discuss what options there are for keeping you and others safe.”
      • Take a break if needed for yourself or your child.


  • Being Effective. Being effective means doing what works for you and your family, while causing the least amount of harm to yourself and others.  There is no one way to be effective.  Families are all different and what works for one may not work for another.  The ultimate goal of effective parenting of children with Mental Health Disorders is to provide structure and setting for our children to learn self-regulation, alleviation of their symptoms, and how to navigate the world beyond our family in functional manner.  Parenting involves long term and short term goals.
    • Short term: we want our children to listen, follow the rules and expectations in our home, to have a calm home, for our children to make positive choices, and for them to be successful in school and social settings when we are not present.
    • Long term: for our children to be able to transition into adulthood and be successful adults in whatever capacity that is for them. Children can transition into adulthood by many paths: vocational, higher education, or military.  The ultimate long term goal of parenting is to help them be successful in this transition and to be able to navigate life without having emotion based reactions to distress that cause larger problems.

Tying it all together:

When we are being mindful of our long and short term goals in any given interaction, being one-mindful of the purpose of that interaction, and being objective and non-judgmental in that interaction it sets the stage for more positive relationships with our children.   The ability to remain mindful in all interactions with our children aids us in setting appropriate limits, boundaries, and expectations.  Being mindful in parenting allows us to role model for our children effective and non-reactive ways to cope with stressful situations and distressful feelings.   In the end mindful parenting allows us to put the relationship with our children first, because we are no longer focusing on the negative and we are no longer putting out the fires of emotional dysregulated responses to stressors that occur in both ourselves and our children.

Jessica Shafer LISW-S